UCalgary scholars join international summit aimed at navigating global hydrology changes

Three hydrology professors from the Schulich School of Engineering (SSE) joined forces with professors from the University of Alabama and University of Saskatchewan, as well as the University of Hawai’i at a recent Hydrological Summit in Hawai’i, with the partnership of the United Nations University Hub (UNU). The gathering facilitated the sharing of important advances in hydrological science.

Summit participants travelled across the Hawaiian Islands in February to explore the different hydrological challenges the U.S. state faces in hopes of improving hydrologic models that are applied in different parts of the planet.

"We were delighted to welcome our colleagues from the University of Calgary to discuss the challenges in building hydrologic models across diverse landscapes," says Tom Giambelluca, professor and director of the University of Hawai’i Water Resources Research Center, and host of the hydrologic sciences summit.

One of the key parts of the UNU’s mandate is building resilience in Indigenous communities; indeed, one stop for the group was to meet with an Indigenous community on the island of Kau’ai that was affected by severe flooding in 2018.

The summit opened discussions for an international collaboration in helping these communities respond to environmental change, says Dr. Martyn Clark, PhD, executive co-director of the UNU Hub and a professor of hydrology and Schulich Research Chair in Environmental Prediction at SSE.

"We were talking about building an alliance that includes communities in Canada, communities in Kau’ai," says Clark, noting this also includes communities in American Samoa and the New Zealand Maori. "So, it’s just the beginnings of some of the discussions that we’re having on that topic as to how we can build an international collaboration that addresses some of those issues."

The researchers are interested in creating hydrological models to address key global problems. Hawai’i’s hydrological challenges are complex, which makes it a great place to research key issues that can be shared internationally.

"Being able to go to Hawai’i and have the summit, you know, see what they’re missing, but also... the capabilities that they have that can be exported elsewhere, was really useful," says Clark.

There are obvious differences between Hawai’i and landlocked Alberta, yet there are many similarities as well. The researchers hope to be able to take the systems they have learned from the summit and apply them to Alberta.

Dr. Alain Pietroniro, PhD, another SSE hydrology professor, explains one of the ways participants could take the knowledge acquired at the summit and make use of it in Alberta.

"We’re developing global models, right’ We know that these models apply here in Alberta, right’" he says. "One of the things we’d like to look at and we will look at is drought and how that impacts this part of the world. Can we predict droughts with longer timescales’ Can we manage our water a little bit more efficiently’

"Those are all things we’re going to look at and these global systems and models really help us achieve that here in Alberta."

The group of researchers will continue to meet to discuss these complex problems. The next gathering will take place in June 2024 to study and understand the challenges that face the Souris River Basin in Saskatoon.